Why They Don’t Fancy Us Part XXI

I’m linking a bit late, but better late than never. Here’s Slate’s Fred Kaplan writing in May on the roots of contemporary anti-Americanism:

"Misunderstanding of American values is not the principal source of anti-Americanism," [a 2004 RAND Corporation report (pdf)] concluded. Many foreigners understand us just fine; they simply don’t like what they see. It’s "some U.S. policies [that] have been, are, and will continue to be major sources of anti-Americanism." (Italics are in the original.)

One crucial aspect of this problem antedates George W. Bush’s presidency. It goes back to the mid-1990s, when Jesse Helms, then the xenophobic Republican chairman of the Senate foreign-relations committee, gutted the U.S. Information Agency and swept its tattered remnants into a dark, dank corner of the State Department.

In its Cold War heyday, the USIA had been a fairly independent agency mandated with blaring the principles of American culture and democracy across the world. It sponsored jazz concerts and radio broadcasts, speaking tours, public libraries filled with classic political documents. The operation was so independent from policy-makers that, during the 1960s and early ’70s, some American scholars sent out on USIA-sponsored speaking tours openly opposed the Vietnam War. The agency’s relative independence—and its staff’s attunement to foreign cultures and languages—conveyed an attractive image of America. But it was also what annoyed Sen. Helms, and so he dismantled the whole operation.

[Retired American diplomat] Price Floyd traces the decline of America’s standing in the world to this moment. "Back then, the USIA transmitted American values—and this was separate from selling American policy," he said. "The two aren’t separated now. There’s no entity that makes it possible to separate them. So, if you disagree with our policy, which is easy to do now, then you hate America, too."

One thought on “Why They Don’t Fancy Us Part XXI

  1. Once we were loved.

    Kaplan’s Slate contributions show that a war monger (that’s right – in essence he thinks setting the middle east aflame ought to have been done differently, and that we should stay in Iraq, as though “staying in Iraq,” rather than “waging war,” describes what U.S. regular and special forces are doing under the likes of Cheney) can have good sense about some matters. But not here. He evidently accepts the faded love thesis, as do many liberals, convinced that without Bush’s gaucheries we’d win Gigi’s heart once more.

    In trying to get things straight, though, it’s worth asking , Who loved us, why and how much? before debating what it will take to restore amour. Kaplan, a Jazz critic, seems to think the cultural hors d’oeuvres the State Department formerly served – namely, art Black’s created under American apartheid – generated good will despite US policies, e.g., imperialism, the arms race and racial oppression. However, the limpid glances flickered our way came from euroconservatives enamored of the CIA’s work rather than the USIA’s, for Christ’s sake. Furthermore, the supposition that distracting innocents abroad with cultural consumerism represents a coup which should be repeated is truculent.

    The sad thing is this. In the past, the social democratic response in Europe to U.S. policy, both domestic and foreign, was far more radical, widespread and persistent than today, so faded love is the wrong tune. On the contrary, true love based on the aligned economic interests of the two blocks’ respective upper crusts, not only endures, it has waxed under Bush’s obnoxious reign; Sarkozy, Merkel and Blair are more than enough proof. As a result, there may be even less resistance to continued U.S. militarism with Clinton or Obama giving the ruling class some class.


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